Hybrid CD-ROMs -- e.g. titles which include online communications, links to expanded content, and/or network game play -- are rapidly proliferating, breaking out of vertical professional and corporate markets into the consumer mainstream. From just 311 titles in print worldwide at year end 1995, the number of hybrid CD-ROM/online titles in print worldwide is projected to more than double to 720 by the end of 1996 -- and then surge to 3,500 in 1997, accounting for nearly 10% of all CD-ROM titles in print worldwide -- according to a new market study, The Hybrid CD-ROM/Online Assessment, by InfoTech, the Woodstock, Vermont-based research and consulting firm.
Intense competition in the consumer games, entertainment, reference, and software applications markets are spurring the growth in hybrids. According to InfoTech President Julie B. Schwerin, "In certain genres, such as encyclopedias and action games, hybrids, while relatively new, are dominating retail sales. This is raising the production bar -- online connectivity is increasingly a feature that consumers expect.
Consequently, publishers are rushing to upgrade existing products and outfit new ones with embedded or bundled browsers to access complimentary online content." Internet ISPs and commercial online services are encouraging the hybrid trend, viewing commercial CD-ROMs as a vehicle for customer recruitment. By year end 1996, the InfoTech study projects that 41% of hybrid titles will connect to the World Wide Web, 34% to private dial-up networks or bulletin boards, and 25% to commercial online services, including online game networks.
Hybrid publishers are also experimenting with online transactions, advertising, and merchandise sales as well as selling premium subscription services. But Schwerin cautions that most consumer hybrid publishers are not yet generating revenue from online sources, "Most publishers view hybrids as a competitive weapon and a marketing tool -- the latest feature you need to get on the shelves and attract consumers. At the same time, most do intend to derive significant online revenues within two to three years.
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